Thursday, April 18, 2013

Demons 'n Things

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In this week's edition of "Perfect Number writes about the gospel of Matthew" we are reading Matthew 12:22-50, which contains a bunch of various things Jesus said. Several of which are about demons.

I'm just going to go through and write whatever odd thoughts I have about each little section. Here we go!

"They they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, 'Could this be the Son of David?' But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, 'It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.'"

So, Beelzebul is another name for satan (to whom I give the middle finger of grammar, obviously). And Jesus basically tells these people that their idea about him using satan's power to drive out demons MAKES NO SENSE. Why would satan be working against the demons? Seriously guys.

And here's the obligatory "wait, do we actually believe in demons or not?" Soooooo... I believe in God, and I believe in angels, so it's not like demons are so bizarre and superstitious and unreasonable. I've heard some second-hand anecdotes about people who have encountered demons, but no particularly convincing evidence one way or the other. They probably exist, but they're very rare- don't start blaming people's illnesses on them or anything.

So anyway. 

"Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house."

Okay this is... odd. Jesus is giving us tips on how to rob someone's house. What.

"What did you learn in Sunday School today?"

"I learned that if you ever break into someone's house, don't forget to bring rope to tie them up so you can steal their stuff."


Jesus was just talking about satan, so I think the "strong man" in this metaphor is satan. And Jesus is robbing satan of his control over the world. So gotta tie up satan first, obviously.

Okay I'm still a little lost with this metaphor.

How about this: So, some people are under the control of "strong men"- which could be addiction, stress, loneliness, etc etc, any sort of bad thing that might be harmful to one's life- and we need to help them with those problems rather than just whatever we believe their spiritual needs to be.

Because how can you do anything without first tying up the "strong man"?

"Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."

So Jesus is dividing up the world into "us vs them." You can't try to just be neutral, because that's not possible- you're either with Jesus or opposed to Jesus.

This doesn't seem right. In the accounts of Jesus' life, I don't see him being super-confrontational toward everyone. He was a friend. He spoke in parables so people would gradually learn who he was and decide if they wanted to follow him or not. It just seems really wrong that he would think that people who are interested and listening to him but haven't made up their minds are somehow "against" him.

Jesus doesn't seem like the kind of person who divides up the world into "us vs them."

(Related: So, lately I'm kind of questioning the existence of hell. But if one believes that everyone who doesn't believe in Jesus goes to hell, then this "whoever is not with me is against me" bit fits with that. And since I don't think that belief seems right, for a lot of reasons, I'm left with not much to say about this verse. Hmm.)

Perhaps Jesus is more harsh than I thought? Or maybe, since he was just talking about satan and demons, this has something to do with that?

"And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven."

Uh what? How can there be a sin that can't be forgiven? What about God's mercy? Was Jesus' death not enough?

What is "blasphemy against the Spirit" anyway?

I just totally don't buy the "unforgivable sin" thing.

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad..."

This. I love this. You can tell if something is good or bad based on the results it produces.

"But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

This is also a little bizarre. Personally, I have this image of someone standing before God, after death, and God says, "Okay, so, that time in May 2002 when you were looking at a finger painting of a dog and said- and I quote- 'it looks dead', and you didn't realize the 5-year-old kid who painted it was standing right behind you... well?" and then you just feel terrible and know that was just a stupid careless thing you said and you have no excuse, nothing you can say to God to explain why you said that... and then God moves on to the next example in his long list of dumb things you said without thinking...

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It goes right along with the view of sin which sees sins as little isolated events to be listed, and the fact that that list has at least 1 item means you don't deserve to go to heaven. But yeah, I don't view sin that way.

So... what in the world is Jesus talking about here?

Perhaps we shouldn't take the "every empty word" thing literally? Maybe? Seriously though, I have no idea how to understand this. Any ideas?

"The Sign of Jonah"

Okay so in the next part of Matthew 12, some Pharisees asked Jesus for a "sign" and Jesus said no, they will just have to make do with "the sign of Jonah."

(Umm what about all the healings and stuff Jesus had been doing? Didn't those count as "signs"?)

This is Jonah as in Jonah and the whale. From the Old Testament, a few hundred years before Jesus. The story of Jonah can be found here.

Jesus explains 2 similarities between himself and the prophet Jonah:
  1. Jonah was inside the whale (okay the NIV says "huge fish" but whatever) for "three days and three nights" and Jesus would be "in the heart of the earth" for "three days and three nights." You know, like when he died and then resurrected. But... uh... I hate to say it, but he wasn't. He was dead for Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night, and part of Sunday morning. It was like a day and a half. (If you've never thought about that, it's okay- I was a Christian for like 15 years before I realized this whole "he rose after 3 days" didn't mean anything near 72 hours.) BUT ANYWAY don't worry about the numbers. It's similar to Jonah, that's what matters.
  2. The people of Nineveh repented when Jonah preached. Unlike the people that Jesus preached to. (Jesus uses this opportunity to give them a hard time about that.)
"When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."

... What?

It's like Jesus is giving a biology lesson on the habits of demons. "They are generally solitary creatures, and they return every year to their place of birth so they can reproduce." What?

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Here's how I understand this passage: When a person has some bad habit or addiction or something, and they get rid of it, they have to replace it with something else- redirect that energy they had previously used for that bad habit. Otherwise, some other addiction or bad habit will come and take its place and be worse.

Like this one time, many years ago, I decided I wouldn't like boys or date anyone or think about boys or have feelings, because of how bad things had gone with this one boy. I didn't want anything to do with any of that. I would just not do anything and not have feelings and keep everything all shut up inside.

And then a few months later I was dating this other guy because like, I didn't have a choice, I just had all these emotions and I had to do SOMETHING with them. I didn't want to date him but what could I do?

And then he broke up with me and everything was horrible and then God changed my life and I learned to redirect all that energy and emotion toward God, so I wasn't driving myself crazy over boys.

So when you get rid of something bad in your life, make an effort to replace it with something good. Because all that time and energy you used to put into it has to go somewhere.

But one thing to note about Jesus' use of this little anecdote about demons- he relates it to "this wicked generation" rather than something that happens to individual people. So I think he's talking about the same sort of thing- get rid of one bad thing, but replace it with another- but on a wider, societal level.

"Jesus' Mother and Brothers"

So somebody tells Jesus his mother and brothers are outside, wanting to talk to him. Jesus says nope, "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

That's kind of cool, being Jesus' brother/sister/mother (I guess "father" was already taken). And I'm going to just assume he went out and talked to his actual mother and brothers and didn't just blow them off with this comment.

I like this part because it shows Jesus' acceptance towards those who follow him- he even calls them his brother/sister/mother. It's not like we're his servants- we're like actual family. TOTALLY AWESOME!


So that's all I have to say about Matthew 12:22-50. This passage had some weird things and some cool things. A lot of unanswered questions, so if you have any insights, please tell me in the comments!


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: For the Bruised Reeds (Matthew 12:15-21)

Next post: Types of Soil (Matthew 13:1-23)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

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